Syria crisis pushes number of displaced people to record high

War in Syria helped push the number of people internally displaced by armed conflict, violence and human rights violations to 28.8 million in 2012, the highest global figure recorded by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

In 2012, 6.5 million people were newly displaced in their home countries, the Geneva-based agency said in its annual report, almost twice as many as the year before. The biggest surge was seen in Syria, where 2.4 million people have been displaced by the ongoing crisis. Because these people have not crossed a border, they are not refugees and do not benefit from international protection. “Much of the spike in the number of internally displaced people (IDPs) worldwide was due to the 2.4 million people displaced by the crisis within Syria by the end of 2012,” said Kate Halff, director of IDMC. “Here, the acceleration of internal displacement is closely linked to the conflict, where one feeds the other, creating a snowball effect. Internal displacement becomes a moving target for those tasked with the response.” Now in its second year, Syria’s uprising is the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian disaster. More than 70,000 people have died in the conflict since opposition forces sought to oust President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, according to the United Nations. The agency has warned that refugee numbers could swell to 3.5 million by the end of the year, if no political solution is found to stem the bloodshed. “[I] cannot begin to give you the real picture of the horrors being meted out today,” UN aid chief Valerie Amos said in an April 18 briefing to the UN Security Council. “We are reaching a point of no return.” The IDMC said that internal displacement in Syria will continue to accelerate until the crisis is resolved, noting that this phenomenon has been see in other countries with drawn-out conflicts. Columbia has the largest number of IDPs in the world, followed by Syria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The region with the highest number of IDPs is Sub-Saharan Africa, at 10.4 million in 2012. Last year, 20 per cent of the world’s internally displaced were in the Middle East. The report suggests that while a resolution to the conflict, particularly in Syria, is critical to stabilizing an internal displacement crisis, it is also vital to bridge the gap between emergency response and development activities. “Ninety per cent of the countries monitored by IDMC have IDPs living in protracted displacement, often for decades while second and third generations are born into displacement,” says Halff. “Governments are responsible for finding long-term solutions for their displaced citizens. However, they can only be realised when the governments and the international community recognise that people forced from their homes require not only a humanitarian response at the height of a crisis, but sustained engagement until a lasting solution is achieved.”